October 13, 2009 • Browser Media
The New York Times recently reported on the search for Leonardo Da Vinci’s “greatest painting,” which is believed by some to be hidden inside a wall of the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy’s town hall. Leading the search is Dr. Maurizio Seracini, an engineering professor from the University of California, San Diego.
The painting—The Battle of Anghiari—covered a wall in the Palazzo’s Hall of 500 until it vanished during a 1563 renovation, when Giorgio Vasari’s military frescoes of Medici victories took its place. But Seracini believes that Vasari left a clue to the painting’s whereabouts in one of his battle scenes, in which “he noticed a tiny flag with two words, ‘Cerca Trova’: essentially, seek and ye shall find.” Analysis of the reconstructed blueprint and documents from the 16th century showed that Da Vinci painted his masterpiece not only on that very wall, but also in the exact spot of Vasari’s “Cerca Trova” flag.
Seracini also discovered that Vasari had not painted directly over The Battle of Anghiari, but had instead “erected new brick walls to hold his murals, and had gone to special trouble to leave a small air gap behind one section of the bricks—the section in back of ‘Cerca Trova.’”
Seracini is still working on proving his theory, but let’s assume for a minute that he’s right and Vasari did make the effort to not only protect Da Vinci’s work but also leave evidence of it for future generations. What strikes me as particularly impressive about that notion is the foresight Vasari had in the moment to think about the value of the painting and what it might bring to others.
Sure, it may have been slightly obvious to Vasari that The Battle of Anghiari was worth protecting, as artists of the time had been known to study the painting for its unprecedented portrayal of anatomy and motion. Vasari could have predicted that something already being used as a teaching tool would certainly offer insight to future artists. But the fact that he took action to preserve that tool is worth noting . . . and imitating.
We often work on projects at The History Factory that document specific events in companies’ histories. After experiencing a particularly turbulent or meaningful episode, many companies see the value in recording the details of the incident, and commission The History Factory to interview key players, hopefully while the details are still fresh in their minds. Often, these companies take this act of preservation one step further and ask for a deliverable that retells their story. That’s the easy part.
What we sometimes struggle with is the lack of images to accompany the story, whether it takes the form of a manuscript, exhibit, or other deliverable. Because of the hectic nature of these types of events, the people involved are extremely focused on the here and now, and no one thinks to capture the experience in the moment. Vasari (may have) recognized the exponential importance Da Vinci’s painting could have to future artists could they stand before it and study his technique. In the same way, companies in the midst of a historic event can bring even more life to their story after the fact with visual imagery that not only accompanies but also invigorates the text.
Acknowledging the value of past experiences and taking steps to record and reuse them is a great first step. But businesses would do well to think about the significance of events as they happen and capture them then. Not all events are obviously significant, however. Sometimes the most mundane research process ultimately becomes the breakthrough moment that results in an exciting new discovery. So how do you know, in the moment, what’s worth recording?
It begins with being aware of your history and keeping it at the forefront of your daily work. What types of discoveries have proven important to your company and industry in the past? Are you working on something similar? Or, are you working on a process that has never before been attempted? That alone is worth preservation. Simply by starting to think along these lines, you’ll put you and your company in a better position to recognize history when you see it.